We're All Turkmenbashi On This Bus
As of Jan.1, Russian TV stations will have to stop inserting subliminal messages into their programming. Apparently they've been doing it a lot. According to the Russian news agency Itar-Tass (motto: "All the news, when we have electricity"), as many as one-fifth of the TV programs have extra frames inserted, some with messages suggesting viewers not change the channel, others with political ads, and still others with a photograph of "American Idol" judge Simon Cowell with the word Satan superimposed on it. Right. Like everyone doesn't already know that. This will change life in Russia. Vodka sales will plummet, people will stop standing in line even though they know there's no food to be had, and everyone will finally quit repeating that stupid joke asking who's buried in Lenin's tomb. Right. As if we don't all know it's Grant by now.
Subliminal messages, for those of you who have never wondered why you suddenly booked a trip to climb Mt. Everest after watching the "Anna Nicole Show," are short, barely perceptible images which are flashed on a screen, embedded in a photograph, or worked into artwork. Supposedly the message sinks into your subconscious, swims around the murky bottom searching for wrecked mental Titanics, then bubbles up to the surface where it gasps for air and makes you crave things you never even considered wanting before. This may help explain the popularity of those "Chicken Soup" books, "Elimidate," and green colored ketchup, though not well.
Subliminal advertising was first brought to our attention by Vance Packard in his book "Subliminal Seduction," which sold well thanks to the hidden message on the cover which caused people looking for The Oxford English Dictionary to buy his book instead. Just kidding. Actually no one looks for the Oxford English Dictionary. At 20 volumes you don't have to look, it takes up the whole room. Packard claimed movie theaters were flashing "Buy popcorn" in the middle of the feature and advertisers were having artists subtly draw the word "sex" as part of an ice cube in liquor ads. He claimed these subconsciously made people want to spend a ridiculous amount of money for a tub of popcorn larger than their car and say really cheesy pick-up lines to the ice cubes in their gin and tonic.
Scientists have always debated whether subliminal messages actually work. A couple of years ago a psychology professor at the University of Washington (motto: "Not that one silly, the other Washington") released a study claiming it doesn't. His experiments showed that students who were exposed to a letter flashed on a screen only retained the information for about one-tenth of a second, or about the same amount of time most of the male subjects thought foreplay should last. In other words, it's gone before you can even think about asking for extra butter-flavored soybean oil.
But that's not stopping the Russian government, which plans to have special equipment monitoring the airwaves. It also won't stop those sponsoring the subliminal advertising. You can bet they'll find another way to get people to do their bidding. One way they might consider is to imitate their former Soviet Union republic-mate, Turkmenistan.
When President Saparmurat Niyazov (motto: "I'm not Idi Amin but I play him on Turkmenistan television") decided it was too much to ask of citizens to remember the name of their country, its leader, cities, airports, and that confusing first month of the year, he decided to take the easy path -- he named them all after himself. First, he decreed he would be known as Akbar Turkmenbashi, the Great Leader of All Turkmen. Then he named a city, various streets, factories, mosques, and even a meteorite Turkmenbashi. A few weeks ago, in a fit of public spirit, he proposed they rename the months of the year, beginning with January which -- hold onto your calendars! -- would be known as Turkmenbashi. Who needs subliminal messages when you have redundancy?
The assembly quickly went along with him, even though two of the other months are to be named -- True Fact Alert! -- Flag and Mother. His latest proposal is to rename the days of the week, but since oddly none of them are to be named Turkmenbashi it will never fly.
"But if none of the days are named after him, how will people in their old age whose memories aren't as sharp as they once were remember the new names?" you might ask. Don't worry, they don't call him the Great Leader of All Turkmen for nothing. Last week he decreed that the various stages of life would be restructured. Adolescence would officially be from the age of 12 to 25. Maturity would be between 37 and 49. And old age would begin at 85. Considering the average life expectancy there is 60 for men and 65 for women, there will be precious few Senior Citizens around with bad memories to forget the new days of the week. See, things are simple when you think them through. The other 12-year life cycles include prophetic, inspirational, and wise. Amazingly, not one is named Turkmenbashi.
This is a much better system than subliminal messaging. For one, it's easy to remember. For another, it doesn't waste a single precious frame of a TV program. Besides, the truth is anyone with a lick of sense [send money] knows that subliminal advertising couldn't possibly work [send lots of money] because we as human beings [send all your money] just aren't that gullible [care of this newspaper]. Right?
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